How does a Jewish adolescent's friendship with a 90-year old Russian Orthodox nun, who also happens to be a princess, lead the youth to become a Catholic? And then later, a Jesuit priest?
It may not seem the likely outcome, but it's the true story behind the vocation of Father David Mark Neuhaus, Latin Patriarchal Vicar for Hebrew-Speaking Catholics in Israel.
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Neuhaus shares how he was born into a Jewish family who escaped the scourge of the Nazis in their native Germany.
The family lived in South Africa, but as an adolescent, David moved to Jerusalem. There he met an Orthodox nun, who in talking about her faith, radiated the joy of Christ.
It was through his conversations with this religious that he found his calling not only to become a Christian, but to serve Christ as his vicar on earth.
Father Neuhaus teaches Scripture at the Latin Patriarchate Seminary and at Bethlehem University.
He completed his doctorate in political science at Hebrew University, Jerusalem. He also has degrees in theology from Centre Sevres in Paris, and Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.
ZENIT: How did you view religion as a child? Were you spiritual?
Father Neuhaus: I was born into a not very practicing German Jewish family that had found refuge from the Nazi scourge in South Africa. My father went to the synagogue regularly, but at home religious practice was not very regular. I did attend one of the excellent local Jewish schools where we prayed every morning, studied the Bible, religion and Hebrew.
I was not particularly interested in any of this and thought that religion was for old people who were scared of death. In addition, for me, at that time, Christianity was perceived as being at the root of the suffering of my own family and the rest of the Jewish people, particularly in Europe, rather than being anything spiritual.
ZENIT: You converted from Judaism while living in Israel. What led you to convert to Catholicism?
Father Neuhaus: I arrived in Israel at the age of 15 with a passion for history, and went off in search of a Russian princess who I knew had moved to Jerusalem. I was a Jewish adolescent and the scion of the Russian Empire I met, Mother Barbara, was almost 90, a Russian Orthodox nun for more than 50 years.
We spent hours together, talking about the last days of the Russian Empire, the revolution and its aftermath. In the course of our conversations, I noticed that this very old and frail lady shone with joy. I found that very strange as she was almost completely bedridden, confined to a small room in a convent and the only prospect she was facing was death.
One day, I plucked up the courage and asked her: Why are you so joyful? She knew I was a Jew and she was hesitant at first, but then as she began to speak of the great love in her life, the words came tumbling out and she became ever more radiant. She told me about Jesus Christ, about God's love expressed in him, about her life of joy with him in the convent.
I was struck and know today that in her radiant joy I saw the face of Jesus for the first time. Our conversations continued over time. As soon as I saw my parents a few months later, I told them that I wanted to be a Christian, and they were shocked. I promised them that I would wait 10 years, but if this remained true they must accept. They agreed, hoping that by the time 10 years had passed I would have come to my senses.
Link (here) to the full interview at Zenit.